Karna’s Wife a Woman who Married a Man Outside the Caste System,“A Lower caste”
To understand this fascinating tale from the Mahabharta one must know about the caste system of the Hindu religion. Hindu society was divided into four castes or classes depending upon their profession but these castes were all mutually exclusive and there was no interaction or intercourse between them. They existed in their spheres like watertight compartments. The highest caste in the hierarchy was the Brahmin followed by the warrior class the Kshatriya and at the lowest rung of the ladder was the menial worker or the Shudra. These were often referred to as 'untouchables.' The 3rd category of the caste hierarchy was the working class like the cobblers and charioteers.
We learn from the Mahabharata that the warrior Karna was born an illegitimate son to Queen Kunti and was abandoned by her. How did this birth take place? As per the story, the great sage Durvasha was pleased with the devoted service of Kunti when he came to stay at the palace. He granted her a boon by teaching a mantra. He told Queen Kunti when she was unmarried that "you can call any God with the help of this mantra and have a son from him". Though still, a virgin Kunti invoked the mantra, and the sun God appeared and cohabited with her. This led to the birth of Karna, who was born illegitimate. Kunti was frightened and she set adrift the young child in a small boat. The child was rescued by a charioteer, who brought him up.
Karna thus, though born a Kshatriya had to endure being a lower caste. He was however possessed of great strength and skill in weaponry and though classified as a lower caste could beat the best of the Kshatriya warriors. He came to know his origin when his mother met him before the Mahabharata war and asked him to join his brothers. He had 5 brothers known as the Pandavas.
Karna was on the horns of a dilemma, yet his loyalty to Duryodhana the Kaurava prince prevailed and he refused to side with the Pandavas, but he promised not to kill any of the Pandavas except Arjuna, who he felt had usurped his right.
Karna at the Swayamvara of Draupadi
Karna appeared at the swayamvara of Draupadi and the princes all around were in awe at his prowess. Later Draupadi confessed that she would have liked Karna as a husband in case he had won. Unfortunately, the Pandavas raised the issue of caste and debarred Karna from the swayamvara. Karna was humiliated and went away and in his absence, Arjuna won Draupadi. From that day onwards Karna was a sworn enemy of Arjuna.
The Kaurava prince Duryodhana gave succor to Karna and took him under his patronage. He was thus forever beholden to the Kaurava prince, who was the enemy of the Pandavas.
Karna remained an outcast, yet princess Uruvi fell in love with him. She was the second wife of Karna, but she was a strong-willed princess and in due course became the primary anchor in Karna’s turbulent life.
Uruvi was the only daughter of the King of Pukeya. She defied all social norms and traditions to garland the person she loved – Karna, a near social outcast and a charioteer’s son. Being the wife of Karna was not easy and Uruvi faced resentment from all the people who loved her. That Karna who had pledged his loyalties to the Kaurava prince Duryodhana did not ameliorate the situation.
Raised in absolute royalty and pampered throughout her life by a doting father, Uruvi found herself facing many challenging situations, some that even tended to shatter her faith in the man she loved the most. But having gone against family and society, she now had to live her choice for the sake of her unborn child.
Time with Karna
As horrific events leading up to the famous war of Kurukshetra begin to unravel, Uruvi braced herself for what was to be her final destiny. Resigning to the fact that breaking her husband’s resolve is not an option, she busied herself in her homely duties, tending to wounded soldiers and being Karna’s strength for the few years she knew they will be together. She was aware as forecast by astrologers that Karna would be killed by a ruse. There was nothing she could do and she could not dissuade Karana not to fight the Pandavas.
Karna the Man
Karna is the central character of the Mahabharata. A righteous man, a valiant warrior, a loyal friend, a dedicated and loving husband, an ideal son and an unsung hero. Karna was a man of his word and though on many occasions he defeated the Pandava brothers like Bhīma, he spared their life as he had promised his mother Kunte that he will kill only one Pandava and that too only Arjuna. He had prophetically said that come what may either I or Arjuna will die and you will still have 5 sons.
Karna for all his prowess and piety remains a man with a black mark in the Mahabharata. His silence when Draupadi was being bared in front of the entire court is something nobody has been able to explain. Here was a warrior whose prowess was well known yet he was sitting like a dud when the princess Draupadi's sari was being removed. It was only Lord Krishna who intervened and saved the Princess.
The princess was aware that Karna would die, not in a straight battle but by a ruse. She had tried to dissuade Karna from joining Duryodhana, but Karna remained loyal to him and though knowing that he was under a curse went into battle despite the entreaty of his wife.
Urvi is one of the unsung heroines of the Mahabharata and her role is not glorified. But she was a great part of Karna and she loved him. When she came to know he was a Kshatriya, she wanted to announce to the world, but Karna forbade her and as a loyal wife she acquiesced. Urvi’s is a tragic tale, but a poignant reminder that women have great inherent strength.
Killing of Karna.
The Mahabharata tells us that Karna in battle with Arjuna in single combat defeated him again and again and in all probability would have won and killed him. But during the battle, his chariot sank in the mud and at that time Arjuna killed him by a ruse. As the chariot sank in the sand Karana appealed to Arjuna." Look, warrior, my chariot has sunk in the sand. Spare a moment that I can pull it out and then I shall give you battle."
Arjuna was inclined to agree but his charioteer Lord Krishna told him, "it is his karma. He is now without weapons and the best time to kill him."
Arjuna fired a string of arrows that hit Karna while he was pulling the stuck wheel from the sand. He died.
Perhaps it was poetic justice for his crime of allowing a princess to be made naked in front of the court and his acquiescence of the same.
Karna was killed but poor Urvi was left forlorn and alone. She chose Karna despite his being an outcast, yet paid a terrible price for her selection. Not much stress is laid on Urvi the wife of Karna in the Mahabharata but there is no doubt that she suffered a lot because of the blind faith of Karna in Duryodhana. As Lord Krishna said it was perhaps the karma of Karna that caught up with him.
Do you think Karna got justice in his life ?
The Mahabharta - ( English edition) by C. Rajagopalachari. Published by International Gita Society.
© 2015 MG Singh emge